OU-P director giving back

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — For Stephanie Burcham, the United Way has always been a way for her to give back to the place she calls home.

But her way of giving has always been in the form of a donation. This year, Burcham, director of the Ohio University Proctorville Center, is building on the way she contributes. Burcham has agreed to join Viviane Khounlavong-Vallance as co-chairs of the Ohio Division of the United Way of River Cities campaign that encompasses all of Lawrence County.

“We feel with the economy right now and the situation in the United States that now more than ever we need to reach out to our community,” she said. “Despite the financial situation we are in there is still good in the heart of Lawrence County and will provide for that need. I think we see that every day, acts of kindness, acts of generosity.”

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The goal for this year’s campaign, which wraps up on Dec. 31, is $1.5 million.

All but one percent of that money will go back to the five counties the campaign supports in Lawrence, Cabell, Wayne, Mason and Lincoln.

There are 32 agencies in the Tri-State that benefit from the United Way drive.

Many of these partners directly help out Lawrence County, such as the Chesapeake Community Center; Boy Scouts; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Goodwill Industries; Special Olympics of Lawrence County; Tri-State Literacy Council; and the American Red Cross that in the past year has provided shelter for several fire victims in the county.

“The Red Cross doesn’t have a physical location (in the county), but they put lots and lots of money into supporting people in Lawrence County,” Burcham said. “I want people to know how people from Lawrence County are benefiting.”

Burcham acknowledged that about a decade ago scandal involving financial mismanagement by then national UW president Bill Aramony rocked the charitable organization.

“It put a bad image on United Way,” she said.

But that was reversed under the leadership of Elaine Chao, who held the post for four years in the mid 1990s.

Just like Burcham, Vallance was involved with the United Way mainly as a contributor.

Now she is busy taking campaign materials to businesses in the county to be a resource as companies plan their in-house campaigns.

“I’ve been approaching businesses new to county,” Vallance said. “It is their choice. They can organize their own rally or own type of organizing program that suits their needs. If they do want help, River Cities is more than happy to go in.”

Vallance has a special understanding of the value of United Way. It was the Literacy Council, supported by the River Cities campaign that helped her family when they came to the United State from Laos.

“I really do feel like I am connected to something I believe in,” Vallance said. “What I am selling I believe in.”

Besides going out to local businesses, the pair plans to hold a variety of events to promote awareness of United Way.

“We know our money is staying locally and being well-used,” Burcham said. “It is being used wisely.”